On Teaching

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” –George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

We’ve all heard this phrase before, often times in jest. I’ve spent most of my life as a teacher of some kind, from working at a tutoring center to teaching high school algebra and even homeschooling my kids for 11 years. In fact I’d guess that most people have taught in one form or another many times, whether at church or school or within their own families.

There is currently a severe teacher shortage across the nation. It’s no secret teachers don’t get paid much and are often underappreciated, but the shortage is so bad there are salary wars and schools scrambling to get anyone in the door so they have someone to sit in the classroom, no matter their credentials or lack thereof. There are also many college incentive programs and scholarships for those pursuing teaching to help counteract this education crisis we’re facing.

Why the abandonment of teaching? Some of the greatest minds in history were also teachers: Aristotle, Galileo, Mozart, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Stephen Hawking. They didn’t just research or study. They didn’t just write and publish. They also taught.

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In recent years a lot of the teaching I do is about writing at either conferences or schools. Though far from an expert, my brief experience and study of the writing craft is sometimes valuable information for others, and I enjoy encouraging aspiring authors to keep learning and moving forward. After all, I was in their shoes just a few short years ago, and it was the help of other authors who encouraged me to do the same.

Writers are some of the most giving people in the world, often sacrificing their time and expertise to teach and help those who want to write as well. But I often notice that at a certain point in their careers, some authors will stop teaching or interacting with aspiring writers altogether. I am 100% behind the idea of protecting one’s time and energy, something that becomes much more precious the busier we get. I am no stranger to saying no when I can’t help, but I think that amongst all the no’s, there should be an occasional yes. It would be a sad thing if those who can teach, just do.

I am in awe of those writers around me who give so freely to aspiring authors. They teach and they support and they uplift and they encourage. I would have quit this writing gig years ago if it weren’t for people like them. As we enter writing conference season, I would encourage everyone to thank those teachers and editors and behind-the-scenes helpers you run into for what they’ve given so freely, solely motivated by their love of writing. I’d also encourage authors to find an opportunity to say yes, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve taught others along their writing path.

Because I believe that those who can do, teach.


Ilima Todd was born and raised on the north shore of Oahu and currently resides in the Rocky Mountains. She never wanted to be a writer even though she loves books and reading. She earned a degree in physics instead. But the characters in her head refused to be ignored, and now she spends her time writing science fiction for teens. Ilima is the author of the REMAKE series (Simon Pulse/Shadow Mountain) and is represented by Lane Heymont of The Seymour Agency. When she is not writing, Ilima loves to spend time with her husband and four children.